Cancer Prevention and Screening

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Cancer Prevention and Screening

Information about cancer prevention and screening at UVA

Your best defense against cancer

Early detection and prevention are key when it comes to cancer -- the second leading cause of death in the United States. Cancer found in the first or second stage has a 5 year survival rate as high as 80-90 percent. Breast cancer screening is expected to prevent 6,000 deaths between 1990 and 2017. This equates to a gain of 16,500 years of life per million screening examinations.

At the UVA Cancer Center, we're committed to promoting screening and early detection. We sponsor and participate in outreach programs to promote screening and education at community health fairs. We offer an annual skin cancer screening day with local dermatologists. We also offer screening and educational programs to local businesses and corporations.

Routine screenings can save your life

The purpose of cancer screening is to find cancer in it's earliest stages. The sooner the cancer is found the better the chance for a cure. A cancer screening can also serve to counsel patients on lifestyle modifications that may decrease their risk of cancer.

In 2004, about 1.3 million people in the United States were diagnosed with cancer. Unfortunately, over half of these will eventually die of cancer. Many of these deaths could have been prevented through screening and early detection.

Different types of cancer such as, colorectal, breast and prostate all require different screening procedures. A cancer-related examination is recommended every 3 years for people age 20-39 and annually after the age of 40. See below  for some different screening services provided at the UVa Cancer Center.

Cancer warning signs

Early detection is your best defense against cancer. Notify your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following

  • Changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • Sores that don't heal
  • Obvious changes in a mole or wart
  • Unusual bleeding or discharge
  • A new lump or thickening in a breast or elsewhere
  • Difficulty swallowing or frequent indigestion
  • A bothersome cough or hoarseness

Keep in mind that cancer is not the only explanation for these
symptoms. Your doctor can determine the cause.
Do not rely solely on these warning signs to detect cancer. Be
sure to follow your doctor's recommendations for screening tests,
such as mammograms and colon cancer screenings.

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Risks you can control

Life would be so much more convenient if we could protect ourselves from cancer simply by reaching into the closet for a handy vest. As it turns out, you actually can don protective gear-not a vest, but a shield of fruits and vegetables plus a good pair of walking shoes.

Most Americans know that being overweight adds to their chances of having diabetes or hypertension (the risks are greatest for African-Americans) but fewer know that it also increases the risk for post-menopausal breast cancer plus colon, prostate, esophageal, endometrial and kidney cancers.

Excess body fat appears to be the culprit. Fat cells produce higher levels of insulin and estrogen, which help increase cell division and replication. The more cells duplicate themselves, the higher the chance that something goes wrong and a cancer cell is born.

The additional hormones just speed up reproduction of the cancer cells. Fat cells also can keep cancer-causing agents trapped in the body. It is a life-and-death issue. Reducing the 62 percent of Americans who are overweight could prevent more than 3 million cases of cancer each year.

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How do you protect yourself?


Three ways the American Institute for Cancer Research says exercise protects you from cancer:

  1. Even if you're not overweight, it reduces overproduction of those pesky hormones related to breast, prostate, endometrium, ovary and testes cancers. Walk briskly about 30 minutes a day and do something more vigorous for an hour each week.
  2. It reduces body fat, making it harder to store cancer-causing agents. Some researchers think it also may improve your body's natural defense systems.
  3. It speeds the movement of food through the colon and decreases the bile acids, both factors for colon cancer.

Healthy eating

Six ways the AICR says what you eat can protect you from cancer:

  1. Filling at least two-thirds of your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans provides vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that protect the body's cells from damage by cancer-causing agents. Eat at least five a day. (Some researchers recommend even nine servings a day.)
  2. All fruits and vegetables are not created equal. Those richest in nutrients and thus better cancer fighters are: dark yellow/orange ones such as mango, cantaloupe, butternut squash, citrus fruits, and dark green leafy ones such as spinach, kale, collards, turnip greens, mustard greens and broccoli.
  3. Think of meat as a side dish, not the main course.
  4. Add phytochemicals, which may prevent the cancer process from beginning and even stop cancerous cells from becoming tumors. One way to get them into your diet is by adding a few healthy vegetables, fruits, whole grains or beans to a recipe by, for instance, putting diced bell pepper and zucchini in spaghetti sauce or a variety of beans in chili.
  5. Limit your intake of fatty foods, especially from animals (not just meat, but butter, cheese and high fat dairy products).
  6. Limit your alcohol consumption to two drinks per day for men and one per day for women. Less is better.

More information about Nutrition and Cancer

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Smoking and Cancer

Smoking damages nearly every organ in the human body, is linked to at least 10 different cancers, and accounts for some 30% of all cancer deaths. And it costs billions of dollars each year. Yet one in four Americans still light up.

Check out the following websites for excellent information on tobacco and cancer:


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The Facts on Sun and Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer.  More than 1 million people get it each year.  When found early, most people with skin cancer can be cured. By far, the sun causes most skin cancers.  However, other things can also cause it:

  • Repeated exposure to x-rays.
  • Contact with chemicals like coal tar or arsenic.

How Can You Prevent Skin Cancer?

The best way is to avoid the sun.  Try to stay out of the sun from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. when its rays are strongest.

Cover up.  When you are out in the sun, wear wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts, and pants.  Don't forget to keep your neck covered.

Use a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor of at least 15.  Sunscreen keeps out the harmful rays of the sun.  Apply it at least 15-30 minutes before going in the sun.  Put on more after swimming or sweating.

And remember these points to avoid skin cancer:

  • Beware of cloudy days.  You can still get burned then.
  • The sun's rays can reach through three feet of water.  So even though you may feel cool in the water, the sun can still burn you.
  • Watch out for the sun in wintertime.  Snow reflects sunlight and that can burn you, too.
  • Don't use sunlamps, tanning parlors, or tanning pills.  They can be just as harmful to your body as the sun.

How Can You Tell If You Have Skin Cancer?

You can't tell for sure.  Only your doctor can.  See your doctor if:

  • A mole changes size, shape, or color.
  • There is an unusual growth on your skin.
  • Your skin changes color in certain spots.
  • A sore won't heal

Look at your skin.   Check moles, spots, and birthmarks monthly. Getting too much sun causes other skin problems, such as red, scaly patches.  These can also become cancer.  See your doctor for this condition, too.

Who Is Likely To Get Skin Cancer?

People who sunburn easily, have fair skin, or have red or blond hair get skin cancer most often.  It is less common in people with black or deep brown skin.  However, anyone who spends a lot of time in the sun can get skin cancer.

Ninety percent of skin cancers occur on the parts of the body not usually covered with clothing - the face, hands, forearms, and ears.  People trying to get tans also get skin cancer on the shoulders, back, chest, or legs.

Remember, protect yourself from the sun, and you'll protect yourself from skin cancer.

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Screenings for the Public

April - Free head and neck screenings. For information, contact Ellen Desper, 434-924-5141 or

May - Free skin cancer screenings are held in May each year.  For information, contact Nila Saliba at 434-243-9217 or

Breast Cancer Screening - The Every Woman's Life Program provides free screening to women who qualify (based on income and age).  For more information, contact Shannon Grady at 434-243-9782 or

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